My wife and I have a long standing tradition of taking a trip on Spring Break that goes back to before we were married and I was attending college. The trip has almost always been to the Smoky Mountains, we’ve tried other places but we keep going back to the Smokies. Back in 2010 I took my bike and did something I always wanted to do, ride US 441 from Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap. a very long climb. I wanted to ride to Clingmans Dome which is the highest point in the Smokies at 6643 feet but the road was closed.
At the time I was happy with my climb, for the sheer reason that I was able to do make it. The road goes uphill for 13 miles, and while it never gets steep it never backs off either. It took me two hours and ten minutes back in 2o10.
This year I took my bike and attempted the climb for a second time. Tuesday the weather was fantastic and I knew it would be my one chance to ride for the week. My wife did some shopping and wandering in Gatlinburg and I rode up the mountain. This time was much easier. I deliberately kept my pace under control, and paid close attention to my heart rate. Shauna had a hike planned for the afternoon and I didn’t want to be too exhausted.
I made it to Newfound Gap which is the high point of US 441 and found that the road to Clingmans Dome was closed again. I noticed some bike tracks going around the gate and decided to try my luck. In about 5 minutes I ran into a group of workers clearing the edges of the road and they said I was welcome to ride. Clingmans Dome road offer s 7 more miles of almost constant climbing but none of it remotely difficult.
The final challenge was the half mile trail from the parking lot to the observation tower. This is a walking trail only but since the place was deserted I rode on up. This trail is paved but has a an average grade of 13% It was hard, but thankfully over soon. Riding up the lookout tower’s gradual slope was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I had always wanted to do this and here I was. A group of hikers on the Appalachian Trail were there to share in my joy that the climb was over. They were 200 miles in on a 2000 mile trip. I told them I held their accomplishment in awe. I could never do it.
Next came the part I was dreading, going down. I had new tires on my bike and was confident my bike would be fine, even though I was riding the rear wheel I recently patched with carbon, which in hindsight was probably not smart. The road had lots of grit which made extra cautious in the turns, even being extra cautious I was still easily able to keep up with the cars on the tight twisty mountain roads.
As for the rest of our trip we had an nice 5 mile hike to some cabins. Often time we’ve done some really difficult mountain hikes that have caused Shauna some difficulty but this time I was the one suffering after my ride and Shauna was comfortably walking. We did some more sight seeing and took in some of what the area has to offer.
Pigeon Forge is a low rent redneck Las Vegas, gaudy tourist trap attractions line the highway from Seiverville to Gatlinburg. I’m certain that no other place on Earth has as high a concentration of mini-golf and go-kart courses. A new attraction this year in Pigeon Forge is a 200 foot Ferris Wheel in a new development called The Island. The wheel had an elaborate water fountain that would perform a light and water show in tune with Charlie Daniels great anthem, “The Devil Went Down to Georia” after the water fountain was done it received a standing ovation from those watching.
Another new development is an apparent Moonshine craze, it seems like the area was dry back when we first came, but I suppose people yearn for the good ol’ days of prohibition moonshine stills, methanol poisoning, blindness, and a slowly vomiting one’s self to death. You can buy acetone at Wal-Mart.
I do recommend the establishment of Wonderworks to prospective visitors, it’s got alot of cheezy stuff but alot of interesting things as well, a climbing wall, lots of interactive games, and really neat ropes course that Shauna was brave enough to try.
One thing you must deal with in the area are nearly constant sells pitches for time shares. You’ll be walking down the street and someone will try to give you 150 dollars cash and 4 tickets to Retarded Al’s Redneck Dinner Theater, all you’ve got to do get in their van and head up to a special open house. DON’T DO IT. We’ve never fell for it, but people tell me the high pressure sales tactics are uncomfortable to say the least.
I’m being a bit hard on the area, I’m sure all touristy type places have their drawbacks, but it’s often the natural beauty that makes them attractions in the first place. The Smoky Mountains offer astounding natural beauty and outstanding opportunities for amazing hikes and cycling for the crazy.